The Tampa Bay Buccaneers released their first 2011 depth chart on Monday, almost exactly at the midpoint of training camp.
Why Monday? Because they had to.
With the first preseason game looming on Friday, the team was required to put out an "official" depth chart to start the week. The Kansas City Chiefs, who will play host to the Buccaneers at Arrowhead Stadium on Friday evening, were required to do the same.
Tampa Bay's new depth chart is crowded, of course, given the enormous 90-man camp rosters allowed this year by the 11th-hour CBA agreement. It's also packed with rookies and young players, including three NFL newcomers in the top spots at their position. And it seemingly provides some answers, too, about how certain battles are shaping up in the early going.
What does it really mean, however? Ask Head Coach Raheem Morris and he'll tell you, simply and bluntly: Absolutely nothing.
So take the Buccaneers' first depth chart of the year with more than a few grains of salt. It's a work in progress, and jobs all over the 29-line document will remain in competition throughout training camp and the preseason.
That said, the new depth chart is yet another sign that football is almost upon us. The Bucs are four days away from their first live action of 2011 and just 34 days away from the regular-season opener. So let's take a quick look at some of the more interesting entries on that depth chart, even if they're not yet set in stone.
Click here to view the entire depth chart.
1. Wide Receiver
It's no surprise that last year's rookie duo, Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn, remain atop the depth chart at the two receiver spots, though Benn is easing his way back into action near the tail end of his recovery from ACL surgery. Though the two receiver spots are not specifically marked as such on the depth chart, Williams remains the X, or split end, while Benn is still at Z, or flanker. Of course, Morris has said in the past week that Williams is learning the other receiver spots (the Bucs call the slot receiver they're "Zebra") so that he can occasionally line up in unexpected places.
What's most interesting about the receiver depth chart is that second-year man Dezmon Briscoe has moved into the spot right behind Benn at flanker. Briscoe spent half of last season on the Bucs' practice squad, and he started out by learning the X position, but Williams' dominance in that spot prompted the coaches to move him to Z. Briscoe appeared in the last two games and was a revelation, with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, and he has been one of the team's most impressive players during the first two weeks of training camp. Sammie Stroughter and Micheal Spurlock are both listed behind Williams and remain excellent options in the Bucs' passing attack, as does Preston Parker, but it looks like the team is strongly considering getting Briscoe a good amount of playing time this year.
2. Right Tackle
This position is a prime example of the reason Morris, like most coaches, thinks a depth chart at this stage of the preseason isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
Jeremy Trueblood started the first six games of last season at right tackle and James Lee started nine of the last 10. Trueblood's streak of 67 consecutive starts was snapped last October when he sustained a knee injury in a win over St. Louis, and the previously untested Lee stepped in and played quite well. In fact, Lee held onto the starting job even after Trueblood returned to full health.
Lee finished the 2010 season as the starter but the Buccaneers made a point of re-signing Trueblood as an unrestricted free agent. It's clear that those two are battling for the starting spot, and that might be one of the toughest predictions on the depth chart in this year's training camp. Still, on the very first depth chart, Trueblood is listed first, which means he will likely start the preseason opener against the Chiefs.
3. Second Tailback
With Cadillac Williams officially out of the picture after his signing with the St. Louis Rams, the Buccaneers have an opening at the primary spot behind starting running back LeGarrette Blount. Earnest Graham might take a portion of the carries that don't go to Blount, but he remains in the starting spot at fullback, where he was last year.
At the moment, that job appears to be Kregg Lumpkin's to lose, though he is not treating the competition as if it is over. The Buccaneers have three interesting rookies right behind him, including the team's sixth-round pick out of USC, Allen Bradford. Bradford is a big back somewhat in Blount's mold, and the Bucs have stated that they want to pound away with a power rushing attack, but Lumpkin isn't exactly small. During the team's Night Practice at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, Lumpkin got the ball on two of the team's first three goal-line plays and was able to blast it into the end zone both times.
4. Defensive End
Not that it was unexpected, but first-round pick Adrian Clayborn debuts as the starter at right defensive end, where Stylez G. White got the majority of the starts last year. White is an unrestricted free agent who has not been re-signed and Clayborn has been unstoppable at times during practice. Clayborn will have to hold off the recently re-signed Tim Crowder, who started nine games at left end last year, but the former Iowa star certainly looks as if he's on track to start on opening day.
On the other end of the line, the first spot at left end goes to the player who started the Bucs' last two games at right end in 2010, Michael Bennett. As a re-signed exclusive rights free agent, Bennett had to wait until Friday to get in his first practice action of training camp, but he hit the ground running. The Bucs think Bennett has a lot of talent to exploit, and they also like his ability to play defensive tackle if needed, too. The first depth chart has Bennett listed in front of second-round draft pick Da'Quan Bowers, but that is no knock on last year's NCAA sack leader. Bowers has displayed no struggles with the knee that required surgery earlier in the year, but the Bucs will proceed with a cautious plan in order to keep him on track. Even if he's not starting, Bowers is a good bet to see extensive playing time early in the season.
5. Middle Linebacker
This spot has fostered one of the best battles of training camp, as the team looks for the right replacement for the departed Barrett Ruud. While third-round pick Mason Foster was drafted with the express idea that he might need to step right in at the "Mike" position, the presence of second-year player Tyrone McKenzie has kept that from being a slam dunk.
McKenzie and Foster have both seen a significant amount of playing time with the first crew during training camp, though McKenzie started out with a higher percentage of the snaps and Foster has recently seen it tilt more in his direction. On the first depth chart, Foster gets the nod at the top Mike slot, with McKenzie in the second slot. The team is also high on undrafted rookie Derrell Smith, who is listed behind McKenzie.
The two players who made the most starts at safety in 2010 are still in the starting spots on the first 2011 depth chart. Sean Jones opened all 16 games at strong safety while then-rookie Cody Grimm made nine starts at free safety. Grimm replaced the suspended Tanard Jackson after two games and played extremely well, but he spent the last five games of the year on injured reserve. That gave an opportunity to Corey Lynch, who also performed well. Those five starts for Lynch were at free safety, but he is now listed as the primary reserve to Jones.
What's more interesting is the placement of rookie Ahmad Black, who looks like he is first learning the free safety position, where the team also has an interesting prospect in first-year player Larry Asante. Of course, the Bucs' two safety positions have been considered largely interchangeable for some time, so Black would likely be able to help at either spot if needed.
7. Return Man
The Buccaneers have plenty of proven options to return punts and kickoffs. In fact, Micheal Spurlock and Sammie Stroughter have both returned kicks for touchdowns in the past few seasons.
It's Spurlock who gets the first seat at both return jobs, however, at least heading into the preseason. The Buccaneers have listed the same order at both punt returner and kick returner: Spurlock, Preston Parker and Stroughter.
There are other notes of interest regarding the first 2011 depth chart. Three players are listed at different positions than they had entering camp: E.J. Wilson, Vince Anderson and rookie Nick Reveiz. Wilson was considered a defensive end coming in but has slid into a defensive tackle position (he's listed behind Gerald McCoy and Frank Okam at the three-technique spot) and opened eyes during camp so far. Anderson spent most of last season on the Bucs' practice squad as a safety, and even saw action in three regular-season games, but he is getting a look at cornerback in this year's camp. And, as previously noted on Buccaneers.com, Reveiz was signed out of Tennessee as a linebacker but has been working at fullback for about a week.
The aforementioned three rookies in the first slots at their position are Clayborn and Foster, as mentioned, plus long-snapper Christian Yount. The UCLA product is the only long-snapper on the list, as incumbent Andrew Economos is on the Active/Non-Football-Injury list due to his offseason Achilles tendon injury.
News flash: Tampa Bay is a young team. The 22 players listed as starters on offense and defense on the first depth chart of 2011 have an average age of 25.95 years old. Of those 22, a whopping 13 are still 25 years old or younger. Only three are 30 or older: 30-year-old Jeff Faine; 31-year-old Earnest Graham; and 36-year-old Ronde Barber, who was a rookie in the NFL when Foster was heading into third grade.
If the depth chart released on Monday were to remain as-is until the regular-season opener – and, again, Morris would strongly caution you from making that assumption – the lineup would have relatively little turnover from the season before. Of the 22 players listed on Monday's depth chart, only four were not starters for at least half of the 2010 campaign: Trueblood (right tackle), Bennett (left end), Clayborn (right end) and Foster (middle linebacker). That number goes up by one if you consider the two kicker positions as starters, as the team has imported former Atlanta punter Michael Koenen.
The starting lineup in Friday's preseason opener at Kansas City may strongly resemble the depth chart the team released on Monday. That game itself, however, is part of the ongoing competition that may produce some changes to the depth chart over the next month. Take a moment to peruse the Bucs' first 2011 depth chart, and enjoy the read, but don't assume it has all the answers.